General Robert E. Lee, an enemy of the United States, surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia on April 9, 1865. 155 years and two months ago.
The event took place at a little hamlet with the unlikely name of "Appomatox Court House", which is about 21 miles from the nearest significant place, Lynchburg, VA.
But it may as well have taken place in a vacuum; it seems that many places in the south have yet to receive word that the war is over and they lost.
As I noted in a previous blog, immediately after Reconstruction, the South went on to implement racist laws to prevent minorities from reaping any benefits from the Union victory. While those laws are for the most part swept away, most of the old attitudes are not.
Part of the problem remains the trappings of a defeated enemy. You can't drive a mile in the south without passing a battle flag of the army of Northern Virginia, or a grandiose equestrian statue of a defeated general, or something named "Robert E. Lee".
The embracing of symbols of a defeated enemy is something unique to American culture. No other place in the United States does such a thing, as far as I am aware. (Case in point - here in Boston, you won't find many Union Jacks flying, or statues of Thomas Gage.)
It seems we have been debating this for decades. But like all other things, in the wake of George Floyd's murder - it's back at the forefront again. You may have heard that the USMC has recently banned the battle flag from all their facilities
- including mundane things like bumper stickers and belt buckles.
It's a long overdue first step - something that should have been done the aforementioned 155 years and two months ago, but I digress.
There's word circulating today that the Army is now considering re-naming some facilities
that were named for defeated enemies of the United States. If you've driven up and down I-95, you're familiar with one of the most obvious, Fort Bragg in North Carolina.
Braxton Bragg once was an American - he even attended the USMA at West Point, but it's not clear that he actually graduated.
Bragg, a native of Warrenton, North Carolina, was educated at West Point and became an artillery officer. He served in Florida and then received three brevet promotions for distinguished service in the Mexicanâ€“American War, most notably the Battle of Buena Vista. He resigned from the U.S. Army in 1856 to become a sugar plantation slave owner in Louisiana. At the start of the Civil War, Bragg trained soldiers in the Gulf Coast region. He was a corps commander at the Battle of Shiloh, where he launched several costly and unsuccessful frontal assaults but nonetheless was commended for his conduct and bravery.
Bragg is generally considered among the worst generals of the Civil War. Most of the battles in which he engaged ended in defeats. Bragg was extremely unpopular with both the men and the officers of his command, who criticized him for numerous perceived faults, including poor battlefield strategy, a quick temper, and overzealous discipline. Bragg has a generally poor reputation with historians, while some point towards the failures of Bragg's subordinates, especially Leonidas Polk, a close ally of Davis and known enemy of Bragg, as more significant factors in the many Confederate defeats at which Bragg commanded. The losses which Bragg suffered are cited as principal factors in the ultimate defeat of the Confederacy.
This is the guy that the most important Army installation on the East Coast is named after? Seriously, WTF??
Long ago, the late historian Shelby Foote uttered the famed analysis of what the end result of the Civil War was.
Before the war, it was said 'the United States are'â€”grammatically it was spoken that way and thought of as a collection of independent states. And after the war it was always 'the United States is,' as we say today without being self-conscious at all. And that sums up what the war accomplished. It made us an 'is.'
It may have been briefly true, probably for the 80 years or so up to the end of WWII. But since that time - it seems the United States is accelerating towards greater balkanization and separation every day.
That's never been clearer than during the coronavirus outbreak. Were we truly United States, we would have responded to national leadership and provided a unified response. Unfortunately, 50 non-united states replied with 50 different responses, and no united front in what should have been a shared struggle.
Today, The United States Are...a collection of multi-state coalitions, working locally for their own citizens, and not paying much attention to what happens south of a line on the map, or on the other coast.
Whatever work might have been done in my lifetime to "form a more perfect union" has been undone by one man in a matter of three years.